Louisiana’s economic development renaissance since 2008 stems in part from major workforce development reforms that led to the creation of LED FastStart® that year.
Named the nation’s top state workforce development program by Business Facilities magazine in 2009 and every year since, FastStart frequently gains mention from corporate executives as a leading reason why they chose to expand in Louisiana.
States commonly recognize the important role of assisting firms as they train an inaugural workforce. But LED FastStart has built a distinctive brand through uncommon service. FastStart develops highly sophisticated, customized and responsive workforce programs at no cost to a company.
“I think we surprise people because while we’re in state government, we think and function like a business,” said Jeff Lynn, executive director of workforce development programs for Louisiana Economic Development. “Our team comes from business and industry, and we understand the importance of offering a tailored solution that helps a company ramp up quickly and efficiently.”
Lynn himself is a former manufacturing training executive who left industry to help shape Georgia’s successful Quick Start program. LED recruited him in 2008 to launch FastStart and to formulate a groundbreaking approach to workforce training.
“From the beginning, we had a goal of creating the No. 1 program in the country,” Lynn said. “It didn’t take long for that to be the case.”
From 2008 to 2014, FastStart worked on 174 different projects in every region of Louisiana. Most projects support manufacturing expansions, but an increasing number assist technology and corporate office customers.
As companies evaluate Louisiana in the site selection process, the FastStart team is at the table. Lynn and his staff invest time learning about a company’s culture, its manufacturing processes and training protocols. When appropriate, FastStart experts visit existing national and international facilities to help develop precise workforce strategies.
FastStart mounts social media campaigns to recruit select talent cohorts, such as the high-tech Millennials it attracted for video game developer Gameloft in New Orleans. For advanced manufacturing clients, FastStart has produced 3-D animated training videos to steep new recruits in the company’s manufacturing culture. No two projects are alike, Lynn said, and some represent an entirely new approach to workforce development.
For example, FastStart played a lead role in designing and equipping a state-funded $22 million advanced manufacturing training center to support the workforce needs of global steel manufacturer Benteler Steel/Tube. The company is investing $975 million and hiring 675 direct employees for its first U.S. production facility in North Louisiana.
After Benteler, other regional manufacturers will benefit from the training center. The FastStart team studied the workflow and equipment of Benteler Steel/Tube’s plant in Paderborn, Germany, and helped Bossier Parish Community College enhance those systems in the Louisiana training center.
“The value of the training facility is almost immeasurable,” said Matthias Jaeger, president and CEO of Benteler Steel/Tube. “We are making a long-term commitment, so we need to have certainty about the workforce of the future.”
FastStart customized a similar strategy for the South African energy company Sasol Ltd., which is building a more than $8 billion chemical complex in Louisiana while continuing to pursue a gas-to-liquids complex that could raise total investment to $20 billion with a final investment decision at a later date. Louisiana is building a $20 million SOWELA Technical Community College training center to support the workforce needs of Sasol and other regional manufacturers in Southwest Louisiana.
Beyond manufacturing, FastStart has created workforce development strategies for many technology companies in Louisiana — including the Fortune 500 headquarters of CenturyLink, IBM, CSC, CGI and GE Capital — which have helped the software development, digital media and IT sector become Louisiana’s fastest growing industry.
In the next decade, state higher education commitments will at least triple the number of undergraduate computer science degrees awarded annually at four major campuses.
“The products we develop,” Lynn said, “are intended to add value over the long-term.”